There is a pervasive attitude in our culture: work hard, make sacrifices, climb the corporate ladder, and improve your financial status. The promotions and accolades that follow are only met with more responsibilities, stress, and time away from our leisure pursuits and loved ones. We continue on this hamster wheel because we think the only way to get ahead is to climb the corporate ladder. Sometimes, however, climbing the ladder is not just a metaphor and really is simply about climbing a ladder.
The Story: What started out as a judicious project to repair the caulk on our home’s siding last summer, quickly evolved into the seemingly impossible task of repainting the entire house. While I managed to paint the lower half of the very faded, south-facing side; we were left with a rather stark two-tone problem. While painting a home may not seem daunting in and of itself, my crippling fear of heights was exacerbated by our tall, 3-story home.
Fast forward an entire year and we still have a two-tone house. I have to assume my wife’s prominent position on the Home Owner’s Association board is the only reason we have been spared the full fury of the HOA’s wrath.
Over the past year, my wife, Katie, and I have been engaged in a battle over painting the house. Katie stands resolved in the idea that safety is paramount to saving money; and that the job should be left to a professional. Katie is also quick to remind me that I was nearly stuck on the roof while removing debris two years ago. She claims she was only moments away from having to call 9-1-1 to rescue me.
Katie made a convincing argument, so I sought counsel from another trusted adviser.
My father, whose paranoia I inherited, was quick to recount a story of both an uncle and neighbor who had recently fallen from ladders. As he delved into the details of spinal fractures and brain bleeds, my mind wandered to other colorful lessons he taught me in my youth.
One of his more outlandish concerns was voiced when I was researching the purchase of a Sea-Doo watercraft. As I recall, he rooted his opposition around the very ‘real’ threat of decapitation by a fishing line. Of course that never happened, but somehow the vision of falling 30-feet from a ladder was a lot more conceivable than a fishing-line beheading.
The Breakdown: The calculations are only a small element of this impasse. There are two primary levers that allow us to gain traction in our financial lives: control cost and increase income. While climbing the metaphorical ladder affects the second lever, climbing the literal ladder in this case impacts the more prominent of the two.
It is typically much easier to control the costs in our lives than increase income. You probably have a lot more control over how you spend your money than you do over the things that affect future raises and career trajectory (e.g., office politics, economic trends, etc.).
At the end of the day, even your salary is just the illusion of security. Accordingly, it’s worth paying additional attention to the costs in your life.
It doesn’t end with hiring somebody to repaint the house today. The house will need a new paint job every 7-10 years. What about other things needing repair or maintenance? Toilets will leak, caulk will fail, things will break, and paint will fade.
Sometimes our fears are more tangible, like a fear of heights. Other times, they are more ambiguous, like the fear of the unknown. I don’t know how to fix that; what if I do it wrong?
In addition to financial rewards, there is a sense of pride and empowerment in figuring something out and repairing or improving it yourself. Each time you learn something new and tackle a different project, your confidence will grow and skill set increase.
Equally important, the more work you contract out, whether it be painting your home or even getting your hair cut, the more dependent you become on the income lever. The alternative, self-reliance, not only saves you the immediate or recurring expense; but allows you the opportunity to invest those dollars and put them to work for you.
As of this entry, the paint status remains unchanged. I’ve received some quotes, but am still exploring strategies that would allow me to safely finish the job myself. While there is some ego involved in navigating an issue like this with a spouse; this is one time you definitely don’t want to hear, “I told you so,” closely followed by ambulance sirens.